This tree, with its unusual fruits, is suitable for gardeners wanting to bring nature back into their garden. It attracts birds, insects and small mammals.
A small to medium-sized tree with a maximum height of 15 m, but averages between 4 and 8 m.The slender straight trunk has smooth grayish-brown bark. Low branching with smooth, dark green young branches turning a pale brown when mature. Flowers are salver-shaped, white and sweet smelling. (October - December) Fruit is in the shape of a pod, usually two joined at the base. Dark green and smooth, some with wrinkles and light green speckles or markings. Split open to reveal fleshy orange pulp with embedded seeds in June to August.
Distribution: Riverine forests and the forest understoreys in the coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal , Zimbabwe and Mozambique .
Derivation of name and historical aspects: The genus Tabernaemontana can be found throughout tropical America, tropical and subtropical Africa, as well as Madagascar. Consists of 25 species of which 2 are found in South Africa. The second species is Tabernaemontana elegans known commonly as the toad tree. The genus name Tabernaemontana is from a 16 th Century physician and herbalist, Jacob Theodore. Ventricosa (swelling on one side) being pot-bellied and refers to the shape of the fruits.
Monkeys and birds eat the fruit. Leaves browsed by game and the sweet smelling flowers attract various insects.
Uses and cultural aspects: The bark of this tree is said to be used for bringing down a fever and the sap can be used to treat wounds and sore eyes. The pulp of the ripe fruit is edible. The latex found in the tree is used as birdlime. The wood is suitable for planks and is said to be insect-proof.
Growing Tabernaemontana ventricosa
Prefers full to semi-shade, but can withstand a certain amount of sunlight. It requires a moderate amount of water. Frost sensitive, preferring more tropical areas with mild winters. Easily grown fast from seed.
The other tree in this genus, Tabernaemontana elegans (toad tree) , is also an excellent garden subject that will attract many small creatures into your garden. This small deciduous tree ranges between 3 and 10 m in height. It is semi- frost resistant and can grow in full sun to semi-shade. It requires a moderate amount of water. It has attractive dark green glossy leaves and rough, deeply fissured, corky bark. The flowers are also white and sweetly scented, attracting various insects. It flowers from September to March. The edible fruits, are also paired, but covered in light brown warts resembling a toad's skin, hence the common name. They occur from February to August .